Charlie Brown and the football

I’ve been struck, if not surprised by the eagerness of the usual crowd to jump on the latest story casting doubt on the reality of anthropogenic global warming, in this case the cosmic ray story being pushed by Svensmark and Calder. You would think after so many previous hopes (urban heat islands, satellite data, the adaptive iris, attacks on the hockey stick and so on) have come to nothing, and with the public debate lost beyond any real hope of salvage, that sensible rightwingers would at least wait and see before running their usual boilerplate on stories like this.

At the very least, in this age of Google, you’d think they might check whether the story is actually a new one. In fact, like most such claims, the cosmic ray idea has been around for quite a while. It’s been taken to pieces many times (William Connolley covers the story as Revenge of the killer cosmic rays from hell). It even got batted about on Oz blogs a few years back. Of course, the cosmic ray theory might pan out, but looking at the mountain of evidence pointing the other way, and the failure of so many previous efforts in this direction, you wouldn’t want to bet your credibility on it, assuming you had any.

At this point, I can’t help but be reminded of the running joke in Peanuts where Lucy promises to hold the football so Charlie Brown can kick it. Every time, she tells him, it will be different from all the previous times. Every time, Charlie falls for it. And every time, she pulls the ball away at the last minute.

(Corrected thanks to Paul G Brown).

47 thoughts on “Charlie Brown and the football

  1. “You would think after so many previous hopes (urban heat islands, satellite data, the adaptive iris, attacks on the hockey stick and so on) have come to nothing, and with the public debate lost beyond any real hope of salvage, that sensible rightwingers would at least wait and see before running their usual boilerplate on stories like this.”

    I think one dynamic at work here is that denialist commentators like Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine, Christopher Pearson, etc., are writing for the benefit of a small but fiercely loyal market who need their periodic ideological sugar fix on certain iconic issues(rather like the readers of the McGuinness Quadrant and, on the left, Green Left Weekly). If any of these people has ever written anything with the intention to persuade or engage with readers who don’t automatically share their views, it was a long time ago.

  2. Remember when the population explosion was a topic of discussion? Remember when the population explosion was thought to be linked to environmental degradation? Of course if the earth were only occupied by the Cheney and the Bush families it might still be turned into a wasteland but why did this variable vanish from the dialogue about global warming which is of course one aspect of what is happening to spaceship earth( a useful metaphor that’s used no more )?

  3. We can do better than dichloroacetate. Instead of replacing two hydrogens per acetate with chlorine, just replace one with fluorine. Very few cancers last if treated with monofluoroacetate.

  4. There’s an article in this morning’s Courioer Mail (p 12) that suggests a case taken by the Qld Conservation Council to the Land and Resources Tribunal was lost, in part, because the Tribunal President noted criticisms of the Stern Report and personally “did not agree with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change view on warming”. More details of this decision may prove interesting!

  5. The Exxon re-positioning was made clearer last week when the CEO spoke at a conference in Houston (as reported in yesterday’s Financial Times.

    There is a large element of two bob each eay in the current Exxon position – away from the ultra-denialism, but still with a foot in the denialist camp.

    Paraphrasing he said that the evidence was clear that there had been a large build up in geenhouse gases and an increasing in the earth’s temperature, but he chose his words carefully. He did not say that global warming was caused by greenhouse gases.

    He also said that “despite the uncertainties”, it would be be “prudent” to take action to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but without endangering poverty reduction, ecobomic development etc.

    This is a sop to the denialist camp on two counts. One, prudence dictates taking action because of the uncertainties, not despite them. If the effects of greenhouse over the next century were known with certainty, we might want to do something about it, but not out of prudence.

    The subliminal message is “we don’t really believe the science, but I have to say this”. The stuff about poverty reduction etc, particularly when prefaced by mention of “the unceetainties” is a nod and a wink to the Bjorn Lomborg agenda, which is that there are far more important and urgent things to do than reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    Of course, Exxon has come a long way from taking out full page ads in the Wall Street Journal saying that carbon dioxide is a good thing because it feeds plant growth.

  6. I was trying to make a counter-point to the idea that climatology is the only discipline in science which is making progress.

    Why bring up something trivial like 1080? Do you know DCA doesn’t work?

    That is worse than the unintentional silliness of some of the less informed climate sceptics.

    What was the point Peter?

  7. “I was trying to make a counter-point to the idea that climatology is the only discipline in science which is making progress.”

    I don’t think anyone here is claiming this. Science in general, including climate science, is characterised by progress. Of course, this process is sometimes hindered by nonscientists with political, financial or religious interests threatened by science (creationism, Lysenkoism, denialism on AIDS and climate science and so on). Fortunately, we seem to have turned the corner on climate science, despite the noise emanating from the Andrew Bolts of this world.

  8. The debate about whether to/what to do about climate change has barely begun, but PM JH has made it clear that anything that reduces coal exports won’t be considered and the opposition isn’t opposing. Coal exported only to customers that use CO2 capture or are otherwise GHG neutral gets no consideration, renewables are simply dismissed out of hand. My guess is thinking will have to change a lot to see the current lot -Labour and Liberal/National – reduce their support for our biggest contributor to climate change. Still true even if they fully support nuclear power for Australia. We’ll go on seeing greater support for coal than we are going to see for anything that could reduce it’s use or value like low cost Photovotaics and better batteries. That kind of innovation looks likely to be left to those outside Australia, including the commercialisation of technologies (like Vanadium batteries) that were developed here.

  9. “Why on earth are you defending the hockey stick graph?”

    Defending it from what? The incompetent criticisms of Steve McIntyre? You can see an example of one of his blunders in this paper which he subsequently acknowledged in this paper after the blunder was pointed out by Huybers. The interesting thing is that McIntyre’s conclusion about the RE benchmark in both his papers is nearly the same even though he acknowledges the blunder in the first. McIntyre’s solution to this problem in the second paper is to make up a ridiculous set of noise proxies that gives the RE benchmark figure that he wants, i.e. after being told by Hybers that using just the North American PC1 will give a 99th percentile RE benchmark of 0.0 when his blunder is eliminated, McIntyre then proposes using 21 white noise proxies in conjunction with the North American PC1 to make a supposedly more accurate RE benchmark. The 21 white noise proxies are supposed to be noise mimics of the other 21 proxies in MBH’s temperature reconstruction. The only problem is, those 21 other proxies have statistics that are nothing like the statistics of white noise. Like the North American PC1 proxy, those other proxies have the statistical characteristics of red noise, not white noise, so a white noise assumption is not going to produce the right RE benchmark. Considering the blunder he made in the first paper, it’s not surprising that McIntyre continues to make them. The hockey stick graph doesn’t need any defence from blunders like these.

  10. “I am talking about the poor choice in methodology for the data analysis, data smoothing versus trend decomposition.”

    Oh so it’s defence from criticisms by one Mark Hill. What journal was that published in?

  11. I’ve been struck, if not surprised by the eagerness of the usual crowd to deny the latest piece of climate science. It has been known for a long time that sun spot cycles correlate with climate. No one serious ever claimed that this is an alternative theory to explain the observed warming. Yet, there was a clear correlation, and no physical mechanism to explain the correlation — except for this weird and controversial hypothesis. Now, brave Svensmark, demonised by the environmental movement for years, provides experimental evidence for his hypothesis — and so convincingly that CERN will conduct further experiments. Hail to Svensmark, who has genuinely improved the physical understanding of the climate system, and provided further evidence that the sun can only have played a minor part in the warming of the last century. Hail Svensmark.

  12. Chris, do you know anything about time series analysis?

    The hockey stick came out when time series analysis was a big topic with researchers. During the 1990s TSA made big advances.

    It should simply be reexamined with a better methodology. How can you possibly oppose this?

  13. Umm, Mark, there have been numerous studies since Mann et al using a range of different techniques, all coming to much the same conclusion.

    If you look at the MM critiques, you’ll see they’ve steadily shifted ground over time, though the conclusion has never varied (as with rationales for the Iraq war). Originally, they claimed to correct errors in the dataset. Then they spent a lot of time arguing about the use of principal components in Mann et al (none of which made much difference since the results of other studies using more up-to-date approaches were much the same) . Now they want to throw out the main data series for North America – if you do this, not surprisingly, it becomes difficult to reach any firm conclusions at all about the global climate 1000 years ago. Of course, these doesn’t stop the same people making strong claims about the Medieval Warm Period (a very movable feast in my reading of this literature).

  14. “It (hockey stick) should simply be reexamined with a better methodology. How can you possibly oppose this?”

    Thank you Mr strawman. Methodology didn’t stop with MBH 98 and MBH 99. Rutherford et al describe a much more up to date technique and methodological sensitivity issues.

  15. I am not really taking about reconstructions, but how they analyse data that was either reconstructed but mainly collected rather than inferred from cores and other evidence. Data will probably always be problematic and the unit-root/cointegration techniques I would want to see used would lessen any data problems. But of course we should applaud better construction of derived data.

    The Hockey stick was smoothed to show a trend. With TSA/cointegration analysis, you would have decomposed the temps into various components – showing different deterministic and stochastic trends.

    Cointegrating regressions would show any real long and short term correlations between temps and possible determinants. Cointegrating regressions would get around the idea of natural variation if it was indeed false, as antrhopogenic impacts could be shown to be non-spurious. More use of TSA with vector auto regressions could statistically show causation, non-causation or two-way causation.

  16. “More use of TSA with vector auto regressions could statistically show causation, non-causation or two-way causation.”

    So you’re not actually attacking the hockey stick, you’re just saying they could have done something more with the results. Don’t forget that one of the main conclusions from the hockeystick was to show that the maximum 40 year average temperature over the 850 or so years before instrumental measurement of global temperatures was not as great as the average temperature over the last 40 years. (The instrumental record shows a hockeystick BTW, just a very short one. Also BTW, it is not possible to prove from the hockeystick results that there was no single year hotter than 1998 or 2005 because (among other things) it can’t reconstruct the El-Nino signal before 1450 AD.) You’re welcome to do some research and write a paper on causation using hockey stick results if you want to, but the intention of producing the hockeystick results was not to say what caused the record, it was just to find out what the record was.

  17. According to Richard Tol:

    “It has been known for a long time that sun spot cycles correlate with climate. No one serious ever claimed that this is an alternative theory to explain the observed warming. Yet, there was a clear correlation, and no physical mechanism to explain the correlation — except for this weird and controversial hypothesis.”

    Actually there is a physical mechanism that explains the correlation that is not weird or controversial. It’s simply the variation in solar irradiance over the sunspot cycle.

    “Hail to Svensmark, who has genuinely improved the physical understanding of the climate system”

    He might have improved the physical understanding of something that has an insignificant effect on the climate system but that’s not the same thing as improving the understanding of the climate system. Insignificant effect on the climate system for every one of several reasons: 1, the particles generated in Svensmark’s experiment are orders of magnitude too small to be Cloud Condensation Nuclei (CCN); 2, over the oceans where the hypothesis is focussed, there are huge numbers of condensation nuclei related to sea salt particles, there is no demonstration that this number of CCN might be increased in any significant way; 3, even if more CCN are made, it would need to be shown that this changes cloudiness in a place where there is already no shortage of CCN; 4, if you’re going to hypothesise that a decrease in cosmic rays has caused some of the warming in the last 30 years you first need to show that there has actually been a decrease in cosmic rays in the last 30 years, there hasn’t.

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